As we age, unfortunately, the degree of mobility we have tends to decrease. This can have a day-to-day impact on our lives, from how independent we are to our level of comfort doing routine tasks. While luxurious and small domestic lifts can be a great benefit, there are, thankfully, exercises we can do to help improve mobility. In this guide, we present a selection of helpful seated exercises, simple in execution, that are great for improving mobility in later life.
Nina, a yoga and Pilates teacher at Sabey Wellness (@sabey_wellness), spoke to us about the importance of exercise as we age and how limited mobility needn’t be an obstacle: “Old age doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. As we get older, we may not have full mobility but there are still plenty of seated exercises we can do to get all the benefits of exercise. Remember to start gradually, be kind to yourself and stick with it. It takes about a month for new activities to become habits.”
The benefits of yoga and Pilates for older people
Nina also spoke to us about why she would recommend yoga specifically for those looking to improve mobility when we are older: “For those in later life, yoga is a great way to improve mobility. It can help with stiff joints, pain, arthritis and balance. It can also bring about a more positive outlook on life, reducing stress and giving us more energy.
“Whoever I teach, I always emphasise mindfulness. Whether in a chair or standing up, take more effort to notice your breath, how your muscles feel tensing and releasing and how your feet feel on the ground. To be more mindful about our movements and breath will help us have an even greater outlook on life and a general sense of wellbeing.”
Adele from Adele’s Pilates, which offers Pilates classes in Exeter, spoke to us about why she recommends Pilates for improving mobility in older age: “Pilates is wonderful for all ages. It is a biomechanical discipline which means that as qualified instructors, we are very aware of the mobility of each and every joint of the body. Increased movement in the joint keeps it fluid and easier to move. Any movement or pressure on the joint produces more synovial fluid which helps reduce friction and discomfort in the joint. This is a natural process that occurs when the joint is moved. If people stay in one position for too long, the joint becomes still and immobile.”
Seated exercises to help improve mobility at home
Simple seated twist
Nina from Sabey Wellness has recommended two seated exercises for those wanting to improve mobility – the first of which comes from the world of yoga. This exercise is called a Simple Seated Twist, or Parivrtta Sukhasana, and involves the individual sitting on a standard chair.
“This exercise is great for releasing any lower back pain and improving flexibility of the spine. Remember to not force yourself into any positions. Be gentle and connect to your breath.
- “Take a big inhale and lift your arms to the sides and above your head.
- On your next exhale, gently twist to the right with your right hand resting on top of the chair and your left hand resting at your side.
- If you can, look over your right shoulder.
- Stay for five rounds of breath. Repeat on the other side.”
Chest press and bicep curls
The next recommendation from Nina is called a chest press and bicep curl. This particular exercise is of Pilates origin. Nina explains its benefits and the steps involved: “These exercises will help keep the upper body mobile, strengthen the chest, shoulders and biceps and help loosen stiff joints.
- “Place a lightweight resistance band under your chair and grab a side with each hand. Have your arms in a cactus position, hands facing forward.
- Start with elbows in line with shoulders, hands grabbing either side of the band.
- On an exhale, work your chest by drawing the arms towards each other, keeping wrists in line with your forearms.
- Inhale to open the arms back to starting position.
- To reduce tension, lower the elbows down.”
Ankle and wrist rotations
Another fantastic and simple seating exercise that can be done to improve mobility is ankle and wrist rotations. The ankles and wrists are two pivotal areas of the body when it comes to mobility, not only balance and our ability to pick up heavy items but also circulation. By taking the time each day to loosen the ankles and wrists, however, you can help improve mobility. The steps are as follows:
- Sit on a standard, study chair, with your back straight but not leaning against the chair back.
- Stretch out your fingers, opening and closing your fists, then rotate the wrists ten times in each direction.
- Perform a similar routine with your feet and ankles. Flex and point both feet, straighten and curl your toes.
- Then rotate/roll each ankle one at a time, 10 times clockwise and then anti-clockwise.
The side bend
Our next exercise recommendations come from Marie-Claire Stanmore, a yoga and Pilates teacher from the website The Movement Specialist. Marie-Claire is also the author of the book MOVE Away from Pain – a helpful guide to obtaining a pain-free life. Marie-Claire’s first suggestion is called the side bend and she has explained the steps below:
- “Plant the feet firmly on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Make sure the knees are parallel.
- Place one hand across the body to hold onto the ribs (like you are giving yourself a hug), or you can hold onto the side of the seat or outside of the thighs. Stretch the free arm up into the air.
- Lengthen through the spine as you take a powerful inhalation.
- Exhale and lean away from the fixed hand.
- Inhale to lengthen back up and repeat six times on each side.”
The forward bend
Marie-Claire’s next exercise recommendation is called the forward bend. This is another super simple mobilising/stretching exercise that would be suitable for older people wanting to stay nimble. Marie-Claire describes the steps involved below:
- “From the same position as the side bend, sit with arms outstretched in front of the body.
- Inhale and lengthen through the spine.
- Exhale and start to roll the spine forwards by tucking in the chin, and then aiming to move each bone of the back downwards and forwards like a bicycle chain.
- Stretch the arms outwards as you roll to increase the sense of length.
- Repeat six times.”
Sit to stand
This exercise is incredibly simple but perfect for older people. Connie Chow, co-founder of DailyCaring.com, a resource for caregivers, says that the ‘sit to stand’ exercise is “One of the best mobility exercises” for older people: “The basic movement is to go from a sitting to a standing position and then return to a sitting position.
“It’s a functional exercise that strengthens leg, core and back muscles. This increases mobility and independence as well as improves balance.
- “Sit in a sturdy, non-slip chair.
- Scoot/walk hips up to the edge of the chair.
- Bring toes back underneath knees.
- Optional: Use arms to push off the chair or knees.
- Lean forward a little to bring nose over toes and push up with legs to a standing position.
- To sit, bend a little at the knees to push hips toward the chair and lower the body to a seated position.
- Pause before doing the next repetition.”
Tips for exercising with limited mobility
Finally, Marie-Claire from The Movement Specialist imparted some general fitness tips for those who have limited mobility: “The key is to keep moving as much as possible. People will want to help you with basic tasks but it’s important that you continue to do as much for yourself as possible. Challenge those end ranges of motion by trying to reach for something that is a little further away, reach high up a wall to mobilise the shoulders. Reach to the sides, bend forward when seated or standing to mobilise the hips. Lift the chest to the ceiling every so often to open the chest.
“Got pain? Breath it out – use the exhale and challenge yourself to meet your pain without feeling a need to push through it. ‘Go to it, not through it’. Most of all…. MOVE.”
Connie of DailyCaring.com stresses the importance of getting a doctor’s approval to make sure that the individual in question is fit enough for exercise. She also goes onto say that “seated exercises are a great way for those with limited mobility to build strength, improve circulation, and boost mood — all while staying safe and avoiding overexertion.” Connie also recommends Tai Chi as a great exercise to try:
“Studies find that tai chi improves flexibility, immune system, sleep, happiness, sense of self-worth, strength, cardiovascular endurance, concentration and more. Even if an older adult can only do a fraction of the range of motion or needs to skip some movements, they’ll still benefit from doing the exercise. And over time, their flexibility and strength will improve.
“The most important thing to remember is that the number one priority is to stay safe while exercising. When trying new exercises or movements, it’s wise to go slow and not push to a point of discomfort or exhaustion.”
Exercises to help improve mobility in later life
- Simple seated twist
- Chest press & bicep curls
- Ankle and wrist rotations
- The side bend
- The forward bend
- Sit to stand
As you can see, there are some great seated exercises out there that can be performed easily without great strain or effort. If you have a loved one who would be keen to improve their mobility, be sure to share these exercises with them. Just be sure to speak to your GP or your loved one’s GP first.
For further advice and tips, make sure to take a look at our news page.